They are extremely conservative on economic issues.
Obsessed with cutting taxes, especially estate taxes (which apply only to the wealthiest Americans).
Opposed to government regulation of the environment or big banks.
Unenthusiastic about government programs to help with jobs, incomes, healthcare, or retirement pensions – programs supported by large majorities of Americans.
Tempted to cut deficits and shrink government by cutting or privatizing guaranteed social security benefits.
Billionaires who favor unpopular, ultraconservative economic policies, and work actively to advance them (that is, most politically active billionaires) stay almost entirely silent about those issues in public. This is a deliberate choice. Billionaires have plenty of media access, but most of them choose not to say anything at all about the policy issues of the day. They deliberately pursue a strategy of what we call “stealth politics”
Consider social security, the largest and most popular domestic program in the United States. Social security has been the subject of spirited debates for decades. Is it going “bankrupt”? (No.) Should its benefits be expanded, to keep all retirees’ incomes well above the poverty line? Or – as advocated by the billionaire Pete Peterson (co-founder of the Blackstone private equity firm) and wealthy allies who fear that high government spending and deficits would erode bond values – should guaranteed benefits be cut, perhaps through less generous cost-of-living adjustments, or by ending guaranteed benefits entirely and leaving retirees with private accounts subject to stock-market fluctuations?
Most of the wealthiest US billionaires have made substantial financial contributions – amounting to hundreds of thousands of reported dollars annually, in addition to any undisclosed “dark money” contributions – to conservative Republican candidates and officials who favor the very unpopular step of cutting rather than expanding social security benefits. Yet, over the 10-year period, 97% of the wealthiest billionaires have said nothing at all about social security policy. Nothing about benefit levels, cost-of-living adjustments, or privatization. (Also nothing about the popular idea of shoring up social security finances by removing the low “cap” on income subject to payroll taxes and making the wealthy pay more.) How can voters know that most billionaires are working to cut their social security benefits?
Consider the estate tax. Twelve of the wealthiest billionaires – including the Kochs and (perhaps unsurprisingly) several wealthy inheritors of the Walton and Mars fortunes – aimed specifically at cutting or abolishing the estate tax. They gave money to policy-oriented organizations seeking to abolish the tax, or founded such organizations, and served on their boards. Not a single billionaire took such activity to support the estate tax.
The political network assembled by the Koch brothers has become so powerful. The Kochs have had a fertile field of less-well-known conservative billionaires to cultivate for hundreds of millions of dollars in secret, unreported contributions. The Kochs’ entrepreneurship and organizational skills, together with stealthy contributions by these little-known billionaires, have produced a political juggernaut.
Both as individuals and as contributors to Koch-type consortia, most US billionaires have given large amounts money – and many have engaged in intense activity – to advance unpopular, inequality-exacerbating, highly conservative economic policies. But they have done so very quietly, saying little or nothing in public about what they are doing or why. They have avoided political accountability.